Amos the Herdsman

The Prophet Amos

Preaching the gospel is a noble work. Paul wrote, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things” (Romans 10:15). Yet for many, the work of preaching the gospel has evolved into an occupation. They preach in order to make a living. If a congregation cannot pay them enough, they either move on or send out requests far and wide for outside support. If this does not yield any results, then they quit preaching.

Paul told Timothy, “Do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5). That was the instruction. He did not say, “Do the work of an evangelist and fulfill your ministry as long as you can make a living doing so and do not have to work a secular job to support yourself.” Yes, Paul also instructed that “those who proclaim the gospel [should] get their living from the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14). However, this instruction was given to a congregation telling them to support those who preach. It was not given to a preacher instructing him to solicit support from other congregations until he receives a comfortable living.

Brethren often talk about “full-time preaching.” What is full-time preaching? It seems that sometimes this non-Biblical term is defined not only by what a man does, but by what he does not do – work a secular job. This makes a distinction that the Scriptures do not make. Would we call Paul a “part-time preacher” during his time in Corinth, Ephesus, and Thessalonica because he worked to support himself (Acts 18:2-4; 20:34; 1 Thessalonians 2:9)? If so, we have turned the noble work of gospel preaching into a common occupation.

Rather than comparing ourselves (or those who preach) with those around us, we would do better to look to the word of God and see the examples of those who proclaimed His word. There are many we could consider. In this article, we will look at a man that may not be among the first who would come to mind – the prophet Amos.

Amos Was Not Popular

One thing we see about Amos – that we also see in many Biblical characters who proclaimed the word of God – is that he was not popular. Amos wrote, “They hate him who reproves in the gate, and they abhor him who speaks with integrity” (Amos 5:10). He was so unpopular that he was not just disliked, he was hated.

Why was Amos so unpopular? This verse gave one reason – he “reproves in the gate,” which means he rebuked sin. He also threatened their comfort: “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion and to those who feel secure in the mountain of Samaria” (Amos 6:1). Human nature does not change. The people in Amos’ day were like people today. They do not want to hear that they are doing wrong or be made to feel uncomfortable about their condition. They also do not want to hear punishment that is coming for those who continue in sin. Of course, this was also part of Amos’ unpopular message. He warned of the people going into exile, the sanctuaries being destroyed, and the king’s house coming under attack (Amos 6:7; 7:8-9). These were not the things people wanted to hear.

In the same way, we will be unpopular today when we speak a similar message. Jesus told His disciples to not be surprised if the world hated them (John 15:18-19). After all, Jesus Himself was unpopular when delivering the message first-hand (John 8:40). Like Amos, Jesus was not only disliked, He was hated – so much so that He was crucified (Matthew 27:15-25). We should often expect a negative response for teaching the truth. After all, Jesus said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master” (Matthew 10:24).

Amos Was Not a Prophet

In responding to Amaziah’s rejection of Amos’ message, Amos said, “I am not a prophet, nor am I the son of a prophet; for I am a herdsman and a grower of sycamore figs” (Amos 7:14). This statement might sound odd to us at first. Amos prophesied God’s message (Amos 7:15). In this sense, he was a prophet; but he was not a prophet because someone paid or supported him to do the work of a prophet.

It was common during that time for the government to support prophets. A notable example of this is the “450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of the Asherah, who [would] eat at Jezebel’s table” (1 Kings 18:19). These false prophets made their living – being supported by the civil authorities – for doing the work of a prophet.

This type of arrangement was suggested by Amaziah’s statement to Amos: “Go, you seer, flee to the land of Judah, and there eat bread and there do your prophesying! But no longer prophesy at Bethel, for it is a sanctuary of the king and a royal residence” (Amos 7:12-13). Amos’ message was not welcome, therefore, he could expect no support. However, Amaziah suggested that his message would possibly be received in Judah, so he could go and be supported there. He told Amos to do what some preachers today do – go preach where they will be supported to do so.

Amos, however, did not prophesy in order to make a living. He took care of that on his own in his work as a herdsman and farmer. He was not doing man’s work, otherwise he would have been sure to be supported. Rather, he was doing God’s work. The awesome importance of God’s message led Amos to prophesy even if he had to support himself while he did it. Yet how many men today quit preaching because they cannot raise “enough” support. How important is the gospel? Is it important enough that we will offer it “without charge” (1 Corinthians 9:18)? There is certainly nothing wrong with a man making his living of the gospel. However, a man who desires to preach ought to do so even if he has to work to support himself while he does it.

Amos Was Not the Son of a Prophet

This was the second part of Amos’ statement to Amaziah: “I am not a prophet, nor am I the son of a prophet” (Amos 7:14). Amos was not saying that his father was not a prophet. He was saying that he had no special training or background that “qualified” him to be a prophet.

The sons of the prophets were what we might call the “schools” of the prophets. Men would train to be prophets under an older prophet – sometimes several young men to each older man. This practice had been around for at least a few decades at the time of Amos (1 Kings 20:35; 2 Kings 2:3; 4:1; 6:1). One of these men was described as Elisha’s servant (2 Kings 4:1). The sons of the prophets were not descendants of the prophets. Rather, they were men who trained under older prophets, learning from them until they were ready to work alone.

Amos, unlike others, received no special training to be a prophet. He simply had the words of God (Amos 7:15). This is really all that is important for us today. It does not matter what college a man attended or in what preacher training program he was enrolled. What matters is that he knows the truth and teaches the truth. So many jobs in our economy require a certain degree in order for one to be hired to do the job. This is to be expected. However, we turn the work of gospel preaching into a common occupation when we expect a man to receive a certain degree or complete a certain program before a congregation will “hire” him to preach. I wonder how many brethren would consider a man like Amos – one who supports himself and has had no formal training – to be a gospel preacher today. Or would they have to modify the term “preacher” to “part-time preacher” or “preacher-in-training”? Our thinking and terminology must be in line with what we see in the Bible, not what we see in the religious world around us.

How Could Amos Be So Bold?

Amos was very bold in his prophesying. How was he able to be so bold? This is an important question to answer because, like Amos, we are to be bold in teaching the gospel. Paul wrote, “Therefore having such hope, we use great boldness in our speech” (2 Corinthians 3:12). How was Amos able to maintain his boldness, even while preaching an unpopular message? The answer can be found in his statement to Amaziah that we discussed already.

He was not a prophet – Again, Amos was not a prophet in the sense that he received no support for prophesying. Therefore, they could not threaten his livelihood.

Just as prophets could be supported, preachers may also make a living from the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:14). However, a man’s standing as a preacher is not based on him being paid for preaching. Furthermore, a man’s willingness to preach should not be dependent upon financial support. Like Amos, a preacher may work to support himself (1 Corinthians 9:6; Acts 18:2-4; 20:34; 1 Thessalonians 2:9). A man must be interested in the work, not in the pay (1 Corinthians 9:16; cf. John 10:11-13).

One who is paid to preach, if he is unable or unwilling to support himself through other work, may be tempted to compromise in order to keep his preaching job. Paul warned Timothy of such a time “when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). What was Timothy to do in this situation? Should he compromise so as to not lose his income? No! “But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5).

The fact that there may be a temptation to compromise does not make it wrong for one to receive wages for preaching. But it is a potential danger. A man, even a preacher, must provide for his family (1 Timothy 5:8); but there are other ways of doing this besides being paid for preaching.

A preacher must preach the whole counsel of God without worrying about losing his support. If he is worried about that, he will not be as bold as he ought to be. He may even neglect teaching on certain unpopular issues or even change his teaching altogether.

He was not the son of a prophet – Another reason why Amos could be so bold was because he did not rely on the teaching or training he had received. All he had was the word of God and he knew that was enough.

Some men today train with others to preach. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but there are some dangers. They may develop a dependence upon others to the point in which they will not (cannot?) think for themselves. They first need to find out what their mentor believes – or what their peers believe – instead of first finding out what the Scriptures teach.

Another danger is one of loyalty. They may develop a loyalty to their teacher(s), making it easy to ignore their sins, errors, and compromises of these men. We must be loyal to Christ, not to any man, no matter who they are (1 Corinthians 1:12-13).

There is also the close association that develops with their fellow students/trainees. This can be good, but what if false teaching creeps in among this group? Will it be opposed? Or will it be swept under the rug and ignored so as not to disrupt the harmony of the group? It can be a great temptation to compromise the truth rather than lose friends.

One does not need some special training to preach. We have the Bible and it is sufficient. The more one invests in becoming qualified in man’s eyes, the less likely he will be to give up his status (or paycheck, perhaps) as a preacher when conflicts and controversy arise.

Let us learn from the example of Amos. Those who preach must do so boldly and without compromise, not worrying about what others will think or what support they may receive for their work.

Christians must judge a man based upon his work in preaching, not his work in supporting himself if that is what he needs to do. Remember Paul’s instruction to the local church in Corinth for “those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14). Support men like Paul, who preach the whole counsel of God without compromise or apology. Do not support those who are unwilling or unable to preach and defend the gospel.

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